ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Mourners said farewell Tuesday to a 7-year-old Florida girl whose body was found in a Georgia landfill after she vanished on her way home from school, and they honored her favorite color by releasing hundreds of purple balloons into the sky.
Purple flowers adorned Somer Thompson's wooden casket and filled the floral displays around First Baptist Church of Orange Park. Her family wore purple ribbons on their clothing.
Pastor David Tarkington called her "a community hugger," who even hugged the crossing guard on the way to school each day.
"Somer was able to love greatly. She was also greatly loved," Tarkington said.
The north Florida girl disappeared a week ago Monday while walking home from school. Her body was discovered two days later in a landfill in southern Georgia.
Somer's parents, Diena and Samuel Thompson, who are estranged, sat across the aisle from each other during the funeral.
In an interview with the Associated Press outside an Orange Park restaurant, Samuel Thompson said he was devastated by his daughter's death.
"My little girl is in heaven now. She doesn't have to deal with this wicked world we live in," he said.
Thompson said he agrees that his daughter was a hugger.
"She could squeeze you and make you feel like there was no greater love in the world," he said.
The pastor said Somer loved to dance, play dress up, draw and color.
"She had a creative mind and was very imaginative," he said. "She loved people and she loved animals."
Anna Braddy, who lived two houses away from the Thompsons, said outside the service that Somer loved to swim in her pool and play with other children, including her 9-year-old daughter, Kayla.
"She was the little sister to all the kids in the neighborhood," Braddy said. "It has affected the whole community."
Nikki Morris, a 37-year-old mother of four from Middleburg, Fla., said she hoped the funeral would bring some closure for the community.
She said she was especially touched by Somer's death, because she has an 8-year-old daughter. Morris said the incident makes her watch over her children.
"We keep them close and tell them we love them. I watch them a lot closer. They don't like it, but they understand it," she said.
Afterward, a motorcade accompanied Somer's body to Jacksonville Memory Gardens for a private graveside services for her family and friends.
The Clay County Sheriff's Office has investigated about 1,700 leads, but have not named any suspects or people of interest.